Ann Dvorak did some limited television work in the early 1950s, some of which still exists. The Internet Archive recently posted one of these shows on their site which is free to view. “Close-Up” was part of an anthology series called The Silver Theatre though the program was later re-run under various titles. According to the description on the website, it was one of the earlier series to be filmed rather than performed live, a method looked upon as inferior, but that means it’s still around for us to take in.
“Close-Up” is not mind-blowing storytelling by any means, and Ann’s character is very similar to many of the stalwart wives/girlfriends she played at Warner Bros. But still, any Ann is good Ann and she even gets to share a brief reunion with Donald Woods who in 1936 played Perry Mason to her Della Street in Case of the Stuttering Bishop.
I first viewed this program around 9 years ago at the UCLA Film & Television Archive where I had to make an appointment and sit in a glass booth to view it. It’s amazing how many research leaps and strides have been made over the last decade because of online access. Just in case you missed this post from a couple years back, a handful of Ann’s films that have fallen into the public domain are also available through the Internet Archive.
I did this interview yesterday morning with Mark Lynch over at WICN Public Radio for his show “Inquiry,” and had a hell of a lot of fun doing it. I expect my family and friends to tell me they like Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, but when a complete stranger has a positive response to the book, and Ann, it’s absolutely thrilling. I love that Mark was really taken with “Historical Digest,” Ann’s abridged 18 volume history of the world that she made an audio book of in the late 1960s. That may be my single favorite tid-bit about her, though not many people have brought it up after reading the book. I was also happy he focused on her years in the UK during the War, which were my two favorite chapters to write.
I think I may get a bit overzealous when talking about Ann, but when an interviewer matches my enthusiasm like Mark Lynch did, I probably sound like a breathless teenager. Still, I hope you’ll give the interview a listen because I think it turned out really well.
When I contacted the Senior Librarian over at the Encino-Tarzana Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library about doing a program devoted to Ann Dvorak’s Encino ranch house, I thought he would tell me I was an idiot for suggesting something so narrow and esoteric. Instead, he was totally on board and really excited about it. So, on February 6th at 6pm, I will be presenting “Walnuts, Sanka and a Cow Named Garbo: Ann Dvorak’s Encino Ranch.” It’ll be around an hour with a slide show packed full of every photo I have ever been able to find of that property, including ones of subsequent owners that I found in the LAPL Photo Collection. Of course, copies of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel will be available for purchase. Ann Dvorak never stayed put for too long. Even when living in the same general area (ie Los Angeles, Hawaii), she tended to switch residences often. Ann and husband Leslie Fenton purchased the Encino property in 1934, had the home built, and she resided on the 35 acre walnut ranch until 1946, making it the longest she ever lived in one place. The property has significance for me because it was where I got married in 2007.
The branch was so enthusiastic about the program that they also scheduled screenings of some of Ann’s films! The showed G Men yesterday and have Scarface scheduled for January 30th, and Three on a Match sometime in the near future. They generously let me take up prime real estate near their entrance to promote the program.
If you’re in the L.A. area on February 6th, I hope you’ll come join us in Encino to pay tribute to their “hometown girl!”
While researching and writing Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, I spent a lot of time in 1932. This was Ann’s breakout year, the year she made some of her most memorable films – and the year she torpedoed her career by walking out on Warner Bros. for that 8 month honeymoon. 1932 has also come to stand out for me as an exceptional year for pre-Code films in general. Hollywood was finally getting over its growing pains from the transition to sound and in 1932, the quality of the cinematography was matching the sophistication of many of the scripts.
The following list represents some of my personal favorite pre-Code films of 1932 and by no means is meant to serve has a comprehensive reference. My apologies in advance if I failed to mention some of your favs.
Whenever I hear the term pre-Code, Red Headed Woman is the first film that comes to mind. Jean Harlow is sassy, shocking, yet sympathetic as Lil Andrews, a working class gal trying to get ahead the only way she knows how. Despite her many misdeeds during the course of the film, Lil comes out ahead at the end which is ok with us, though the Hays Office was probably pretty ticked!
Only in the pre-Code era could Clark Gable share a steamy wet scene with Mary Astor, and end up with call-girl Jean Harlow at the end. Red Dust is full of beautiful people doing “naughty” things in a tropical setting and is fantastic. Knowing that some of Harlow’s playful scenes came on the heels of husband Paul Bern’s unexpected death makes her performance as the hooker with a heart of gold that much more impressive.
Faithless is a personal favorite with Tallulah Bankhead acting her heart out as a wealthy socialite who loses everything in the crash of ’29 and eventually hits rock bottom. Robert Montgomery is her on again, off again love interest and is given much more to do than many of his other early MGM works.
I was at a party a couple of years back where one of the guests, who was obnoxious to begin with, started spouting off how overrated Freaks is. My husband attributed his pontificating as being contrary for the sake of being contrary, and I agree. In my opinion, Freaks is unlike any film ever made, and 80+ years later there are still lessons to be learned from it. Casting people with physical abnormalities does indeed have a great deal of shock value, but their portrayal still has many elements of sympathy, even if the end is particularly brutal. The fact that the posh and glamours MGM made this film under the watchful eye of Irving Thalberg makes me love it all the more.
I don’t think I can adequately express just how much I love the Marx Brothers. I love them as a group, I love them individually, I really love them with Zeppo, which means I especially love them in the pre-Code era. Their films with Paramount are unparalleled masterpieces of joy and madness (though I do waiver a bit on The Cocoanuts), and Horse Feathers is included in that bunch. Building on the concept of Groucho as a university Dean, the brothers wreak their very special kind of havoc on the college’s football program. Groucho’s straight woman Margaret Dumont is missing from this one, but her shoes are more than filled by Thelma Todd as the “college widow” being wooed by one and all. Horse Feathers is such a personal favorite that lyrics from the movie’s theme song, “Everyone Says I Love You” was printed on the cover of our wedding program.
This 1932 retelling of the story of Sadie Thompson, a prostitute who unwillingly drives a overzealous missionary mad was a coveted role. Howard Hughes desperately tried to secure the part for his contract player Ann Dvorak, but Sadie went to Joan Crawford. The film did not do well at the box office and was apparently too much of a departure for Crawford’s fans. Joan distanced her self from the film and delved out harsh words about it later on. In retrospect, Rain is a damn fine film, highly stylized under the direction of Lewis Milestone who actually got a very strong performance out of Crawford, not to mention costar Walter Huston.
Trouble in Paradise is a wonderfully sophisticated comedy, though would we expect anything less from Lubitsch? This tale of a pair of jewel thieves who infiltrate the world of a successful business woman in order to con her only gets better each time I view it. Herbert Marshall is superb as the con artist who inadvertently falls in love with his target, and Kay Francis is equally engaging as the wealthy business owner. However, Miriam Hopkins damn near steals the film as Marshall’s jealous accomplice and is a sheer delight.
Marlene Dietrich dressed in a gorilla suite, from which she does a strip tease before donning a blonde afro wig to sing a song called “Hot Voodoo” surrounded by scantily clad men dressed as “natives.”
And of course…
When producer Howard Hughes hired director Howard Hawks and writer Ben Hecht in 1931, he expected an adaptation of the Armitage Trail book Scarface. The resulting film only turned out to be loosely based on the source material, but is a savage masterpiece that stands out as one of the quintessential gangster films of the day, if not all time. Even in the pre-Code era which seemed to be a filmmaking free for all, Hughes fought censorship battles that dragged on for months. The film was actually cut by September of 1931, but wasn’t released until the following March. Paul Muni can be a bit over the top as Tony Camonte, but is still effective, and George Raft, Karen Morley, and Boris Karloff are all delightful. And let’s not forget the divine Ann Dvorak, who in her credited film debit sears across the screen as the restless and doomed Cesca Camonte.
If Red Headed Woman is the first film that comes to mind when I hear the term “pre-Code,” then Three on a Match is a close second. Clocking in at around 63 minutes, this film possibly packs in more than any other. Joan Blondell and Bette Davis are featured, but at its heart is Ann Dvorak who starts off at the top of the world and then throws it all away for hot sex and drugs. Thrown in Humphrey Bogart, Warren William, Jack LaRue, Edward Arnold, Allan Jenkins, and Glena Farrell and how could you not love this film? Incidentally, Three on a Match was my introduction to Ann Dvorak many moons ago which got me started on my journey to document her life and career. So, had I not seen it when I did, I might not be writing this post right now.
I have said it before, but I’ll repeat it again – Molly Louvain is not necessarily the best of the pre-Code titles, but it’s one of the few times Ann Dvorak was given a film to carry and she does a more than adequate job. As the jilted Molly, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who falls into the arms a small time crook and later a wisecracking newspaper reporter, Ann more than holds her own even in scenes opposite the high-energy Lee Tracy. Also worth noting is that co-star Leslie Fenton became Ann’s first husband mere weeks after filming Molly Louvain and their off screen chemistry shines through in their scenes together. (Unfortunately, in all my years of collecting, I have never seen a poster or lobby card from this film!)
Well, there you have it – a highlight of some of my favorite pre-Codes of 1932, but by no means all of them. Feel free to add your favorite 1932 gems in the comments.
(All images, except from Molly Louvain, courtesy of Heritage Auctions)
This Modern Age is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 9th at 12:00am PST (which is technically Friday).
TCM continues its tribute to Joan Crawford tomorrow without another round of early titles, including This Modern Age. By 1931, when this film was made, the musical revues that Ann Dvorak had been appearing in as chorus girl had fallen out of vogue. Since MGM didn’t seem to want to elevate Ann’s status on the lot, she was instead relegated to “extra” parts, showing up in the background. This Modern Age is actually one of her more prominent extra parts and she gets a bit of screen time as a party crasher. It’s been years since I watched this one, but I recall liking it well enough.
Rain is also in the line-up at 7:00pm which is a favorite Joan Crawford performance of mine. It’s also worth noting that the role of Sadie Thompson was one Howard Hughes tried hard to get for Ann, but to no avail. While I love Joan, my heart aches thinking about Ann playing a part of that caliber.
Yeah, I’m supposed to be giving myself a break from the blogging, but this latest development is too exciting (well, it’s exciting for me) not to share.
I have been overseeing the photo collection of the Los Angeles Public Library for almost five years. I thought I had turned over every stone looking for images of Ann, but apparently not. While looking for something unrelated I came across two photos of the “living billboard” that was erected on June 18, 1929 at the corner of Wilshire & Shatto by MGM to promote The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Those of you who have a copy of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel will recognize this because there is a closer photo of the bizarre set-up in the book. You’ll have to take my work that Ann is on the first “O” in HOLLYWOOD.
I was so excited to find these in the online collection that I went to pull the hard copy and low and behold found the top photo in the folder! The focal point of the image is supposed to be Sir Jagajit Singh of India who was visiting (at least that’s the description on the photo), but look who is right there in the middle! That’s right, our beloved Ann Dvorak is right there. This was taken on the set of The Woman Racket (1930), so we also have Blanche Sweet in white and Sally Starr in black next to Ann-D.
It sure doesn’t take much to please me! Happy Sunday.
(All three photos are from the Los Angeles Public Library/Security Pacific National Bank Collection)
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, January 3rd at 6:00am PST.
I swear I am going to take a break from blogging at some point! In the meantime, TCM continues to make me work by airing another early MGM flick with an appearance by an uncredited Ann Dvorak. Unlike yesterday’s film, Our Blushing Brides, where Ann is onscreen for seconds, she is present throughout most of Hollywood Revue as a member of the chorus. She even gets to utter two words and slap Jack Benny in the face. I wrote a bit more extensively about the film a few years back, which you can take a look at here.
The above photo is actually a fairly new purchase. Unfortunately, because it’s from the Lon Chaney number in the film (which he does not actually appear), I ended up paying way more on eBay than I would have liked, but so is the life of the crazed collector. Ann is on the far left.
Mercifully, for the first time in 367 days I shall not be blogging tomorrow (unless someplace like the New York Times reviews my book). Cheers!
Our Blushing Brides is going to air on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 2nd at 9:00pm PST.
Creepers, no rest for the wicked huh? I finally get through 365 consecutive posts about Ann Dvorak and cannot get a break even for one day! Joan Crawford, one time mentor to Ann Dvorak, is TCM’s star of the month and they’re kicking it off tomorrow with some of Joan’s early titles, including Our Blushing Brides.
Ann was under contract at MGM at the time, but had only been employed as a chorus girl and assistant choreographer. She longed to break out of the chorus and Joan tried to help with that. Unfortunately, the most the studio was willing to throw Ann were extra parts like the one in Our Blushing Brides where Ann spends mere moments fawning over Robert Montgomery with four other gals.
If you watch this one, don’t blink or you might miss her!